As a singer and songwriter for Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham has produced some of the most well-loved and commercially successful songs in the history of pop music. But he still considers himself an outsider. “The fringe is where my heart is,” he told us. Today he demonstrates his indie spirit by putting out his first ever non-major-label release, the solo album Seeds We Sow. We spoke with Buckingham about balancing creativity with domesticity, his new approach to writing lyrics, and keeping the peace within Fleetwood Mac.
Tell me a little bit about what your family life is like these days.
My son was born when I was 48; he’s 12 now. And then I’ve got two daughters, 11 and 7. By the time [I had kids], I was ready for it and had gotten a lot of other garbage out of the way. I saw a lot of people in decades past who were spouses and/or parents at the time, and they were not really there for their kids, and I think the children especially suffered. Everybody suffered. And I just didn’t want to do that. I came from a wonderful, beautiful, stable upbringing, and [for a while] I didn’t see myself in that role, so I kind of held off for a long time. You get to a certain point in your life where you’re not really looking around for anything and you can appreciate what you have a little more than any of us could back then. It does manifest itself as a kind of normality, certainly. [The kids] all go to private school down the street and there are parental duties to fulfill. But all of that balances out very well with the creativity. Anyone who said children were death to the artist didn’t know what they were talking about.
You’ve certainly shown on your new album that it’s possible to write from every juncture in life.
I’ve been more prolific in the last six years than ever before. I’ve done three solo albums. But before, I was the Terrence Malick of rockers in terms of these large gaps in between solo projects. There were points in time where a project that began as a solo album ended up getting folded over and made into a Fleetwood Mac album — that was the small machine getting swallowed up by the big machine. But yeah, I think that having a very collected environment, a sort of cool base from which to move out [helps], because you have to get a little neurotic and a little psycho at times in order to be creative, but it’s a little more difficult when the rest of your life is that way, too. It’s nice to be able to come back and have a safe harbor to draw from, just in terms of what’s real and what isn’t.
You’ve said in interviews that you’re finding the process of writing songs increasingly mysterious. Can you elaborate on that?
I might have been referring to the lyrics more than anything. I feel like I’m getting better as a lyricist because I’m getting a little less literal. The whole process of putting lyrics together becomes more poetic and obscure or subjective, a bit of a Rorschach. And there have been times, more than once on this album, when I was responding to things, combinations of words, without any intention. And I wouldn’t necessarily know what it was I was saying until I put it all together, and then I took a look at it and go, “Oh, I see what that means.” To me, that’s kind of exciting and that represents a level of growth from the “I love you baby, you left me” kind of mentality.
You’ve talked about the Fleetwood Mac reunion tour [in 2009] fueling “a residue of momentum,” a sense that when you do these big tours with Fleetwood Mac it also feeds the other work that you’re doing, and vice versa. Is it symbiotic?
Sure. The larger machine clearly feeds the financial side of things. There never would have been an opportunity to make solo records without that preceding it. For me, it’s been a different kind of scene than, say, what Stevie chose to do or was able to do. What she did was sort of an extension of what she was doing in Fleetwood Mac, whereas I was kind of turning around and biting the hand that fed me. And the irony of some of that is that I don’t think the label ever fully got behind my solo work, because I think they looked at it and kind of went, “What the hell is this? Let’s get back to what really matters.” There was a schizoid quality, going from one thing and then moving way over to the left, and then coming back to the right. The pendulum would swing back and forth.
Stevie has a new album out as well, to which you contributed. After all you’ve been through, not just with Stevie, but with the rest of the members of the band, how do you maintain such seemingly healthy relationships with each other? Are you guys just in therapy all the time?
If you try to imagine the process of making the Rumours album, Stevie and I had just broken up and I was trying to produce that record. I tried to make the choice to do the right thing for her every day. Four out of five of us were experiencing turmoil and had to kind of seal it off and had to deny that it was there in order to just get on with what needed to be done, because suddenly there was this calling that we had to fulfill. But I had known Stevie for years before we were a couple, since we were in high school. So it’s kind of an epic story if you look at it from the overview of these two people who obviously have a lot of regard for each other and yet had to do what they had to do and were not really able to address the feeling part of it much of the time. It left this lurching that over time has been slowly adjusted. Over the years and certainly in fairly recent times, Stevie and I have had our difficulties, but the fact that we’re still working on it speaks to the depth of the connection. I’m not really sure how you define that connection at this point, but it’s clearly there and clearly some of what I’ve done has been motivated by things that happened with her, and vice versa.
She recently referred to you two as “miserable muses.”
Well, like I said, there was a calling. That first album before Rumours had done well right off the bat, and it was clear that this band had incredible chemistry on a musical level, not just on a personal level. We had to fulfill that destiny, if you want to get a little flowery about it. It was very difficult for me — the irony of working every day to help someone move away from you, basically. It was very bittersweet, but there’s a big lesson there.
What do you mean, “helping someone move away from you”?
Helping her to move away from me as a person and as an artist, because we started off as a duo and then we joined the band. At some point, her image and her style and her voice … the things that were most appreciated by the machinery — that was waiting in the wings for her in a way that it wasn’t for me, because I was way off to the left and people were going, “What the hell is that?” So by being a part of the mechanism that was for her visibility, I was helping her to move farther away from me.
Switching gears for a moment, it seems like you keep up with new music, from what I’ve read. Is that true?
It goes in waves. When you’re younger there’s a kind of a network of communication and sharing that happens, because everyone’s listening to the same stuff, and sharing it with friends, and that tends to break down when you’re a bit older. But at the same time, I can say that two years ago I had this illusion that the only thing out there was what I was hearing on KISS FM, which is Katy Perry and all the stuff that my kids make us listen to when they get in the car. And then suddenly I started listening to college radio and I found Phoenix, and I found Arcade Fire, and I found Dirty Projectors, and Vampire Weekend, and a lot of things which gave me a great deal of faith in the fact that there’s a lot of really good, smart music out there.
Bands on all sides of the sonic spectrum often name-check Fleetwood Mac. Do you know that? I think when you ask cool indie rockers what their secret favorite album is, nine times out of ten they’ll say, “Tusk, best songwriting of all time.”
I do feel like my street cred is as good as it’s ever been. Does that translate to marketability? Probably not. But, you know, that’s a whole other story, and also: Who cares?